SOCCER

English Premier League Returns After International Break

Oct 15, 2021, 2:52 PM
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: (EDITORS NOTE - This image has been converted to black and whi...
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: (EDITORS NOTE - This image has been converted to black and white) Merchandise is sold ahead of the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Newcastle United at Molineux on October 02, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
(Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Clubs are sweating on the timely arrivals of their star players as players arrive back from around the globe to meet up with their domestic clubs. Assessing the minor knocks and bruises some have picked up and if they’ll be ready to play this weekend.

There are still issues with South American players making it back and being available for their clubs, which seems unlikely. With Brazil playing in the early hours of Friday morning U.K. time, it means a short window to get back to England and play for their clubs. La Liga in Spain postponed matches for teams in the same predicament, but unfortunately for the English clubs, no such help has been provided.

As the international break with World Cup qualifiers and Nations League rolled along, big news broke that Newcastle United’s sale had finally gone through to a Saudi group with money to burn. It might take a couple of seasons to truly see the devastating spending power, but rumors are flying about all the players they could make moves on and potential managers they want to replace Steve Bruce with. It is certainly one to keep an eye on and watch develop especially as the January transfer rolls around.

With a flurry of games coming, you might want to keep an eye on Watford versus Liverpool, where Claudio Ranieri takes his first game in charge of the Hornets after he replaced the fired Xisco Munoz. Will the EPL new boys have the new manager bump? Find out at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, as you can watch the first kick-off on Peacock TV.

Leicester City v. Manchester United

First up is the 8:00 a.m. kick on USA Network, an encounter between two teams that haven’t quite reached their stride yet. Leicester has been well below their lofty standards of recent seasons and the spotlight, as always, is on Manchester United, particularly after their summer spending spree.

Leicester has become stronger slowly but surely under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers, and they have built one of the best squads in the EPL, which has seen them not only be tough in league play but also in the domestic cup competitions. They received all the plaudits they deserved for their style of play, unearthing talent now, and mixing with the usual “Top 6” teams.

But despite this growth, this season, the Foxes are a little off. Yes, the late pre-season injury to defender Wesley Fofana was a big blow, but they’ve dealt with injuries before and coped. This for me is a little more to do with mentality and one that Rodgers will be working day and night to get back on track. Surrendering a two-goal lead down at Crystal Palace was a blow, with them being 2-0 up at halftime you thought “okay, the Foxes are back.’ But they caved a little, went a little too conservative, and fair play to Palace they never gave up and got what they deserved in a blistering 2nd 45 minutes.

They’ll be a little weaker in the midfield as Wilfried Ndidi is still nursing a hamstring injury and isn’t expected to be back until some time in early November. And this might be an issue moving forward. The Nigerian defensive midfielder is the pivot that protects his defenders and allows those in front of him to do what they do best, move the ball quickly and with purpose. Whilst they went with a 4-4-2 against Palace I just can’t think they’ll do that with United coming into town. Maybe three center backs or a three-man midfield would be my best guess to help cope with United’s firepower. Allowing Leicester to approach the game with a more counter-attacking mindset, something Leicester, on occasion, has used to devastating effect.

United come into King Power Stadium missing their preferred center-back partnership, with Varane picking up an injury on international duty with France and Harry Maguire still missing through injury. With United, we could be forgiven for thinking there might have been a little more from them. Yes, it’s still early in the season and the other new signings are still gelling a bit, but, the style is still not overly attractive. Am I being harsh? No, this is Manchester United and they’re not supposed to be nearly men, are they? All the money spent and they still look a little short in talent in certain areas. That said, when we’ve seen United click, even this season, they are highly destructive. The attacking talent they have is amazing and when they thunder forward you can see opponents scrambling to adjust and try to keep their shape. The issue for United is when teams sit deep they struggle to break down their defensive shape, thus taking away their strength of fast counter-attacking soccer. Something I think we’ll see a little of on Saturday. It will be an intriguing match-up.

Prediction: I think we’ll get to watch some slick soccer between these two teams, and I think there will be key battles all over the field. A lot rides on how Rodgers sets his lads up to play, not only their formation but their mindset. And do they have the confidence to mix with the bigger teams as they have done in the past? United for me are favorites, this is a good test for them and when you have the likes of Ronaldo in the ranks it’s up to the wide forwards and their other Portuguese talisman, Bruno Fernandes to find his compatriot in the right areas. If they can, then the Red Devils will be too much to handle.

Brentford v. Chelsea

A London battle that I couldn’t let slip by is watching the EPL first-timers again at their electric home, the Brentford Community Stadium, a 10:30 a.m. kick-off on KSL 5.

The Bees have taken to topflight soccer like a duck to water. In their last two results they gave Liverpool all they could handle in a thoroughly entertaining 3-3 draw. Then they went on the road to beat a good West Ham team 2-1 in injury time. Thomas Frank has a team that can mix it physically with anyone. They’re a bit ugly at times and then the next they can open you up and be explosive and entertaining. Their approach, much like Leeds United last season, is refreshing. Zero fear and look to stamp their authority on the game regardless of the opposition. At home though, the crowd is loud, passionate and the coach and his players feed off of the siege mentality they’ve forged at home.

What has made Brentford successful so far is their ability to work as a unit, using a compact 3-5-2 formation to clog the central areas and make it a fight through the middle. And the two up front are physical and more of an old-fashioned duo, a bigger target man and a smaller and maybe a little more mobile option that plays off the shoulder. Ivan Toney is already attracting suitors elsewhere. He’s not an old-fashioned center forward, but his hold-up play, his ability to battle with center backs allows others to come into play. Two goals and two assists showing that he’ll be pivotal to Brentford throughout the season. They’ve suffered a couple of injuries in defense over recent weeks, and former Celtic man, Kristoffer Ajer looks like he’ll still be out. Thankfully, the rock in the heart of the back three and captain Pontus Jansson will continue to marshall the defense, playing all but eight minutes in the EPL this season.

Chelsea, the table-toppers come in looking to keep their noses at the top of the table and will be full of confidence as their title charge is very much in full swing. One player that did come back from international play with a knock is German international, Antonio Rudiger. He might be a late decision for Thomas Tuchels men, and he’s been outstanding this season and his loss would be a blow. As well, Thiago Silva might not be available due to international duty with Brazil.

Tuchel has his Blues so well balanced that their pragmatic approach is going to push them to a serious title bid. The approach is a little different than Manchester City and Liverpool, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive. The 3-4-3 employed is one that is used to full effect, allowing the wingbacks to storm forward in the attack, providing overlapping runs and also allowing the wide forwards to pinch in and play a little closer to target man, Lukaku.

Defensively they have Jorginho who will sit and move the ball around, and then you have Ngolo Kante who will provide the engine. It’s an impressive unit that moves at speed and power. If they start, look out for Kai Havertz and Mason Mount to pick up pockets of space between the midfield and the Bees back three. Pushing and probing that might just win the game for Chelsea, as they look to overload the final third and create gaps for the overlapping players.

Prediction: I think this will be a cracking game to tune into, a tough slog in the midfield, and Brentford’s physical frontline with what could be an undermanned central three defensive unit, which could make for a great matchup. But much like the United game earlier, I expect the forwards of Chelsea to be the difference and regardless of the result, the fans will make this game the spectacle.

That’s all for this week. But also keep an eye on the rest of Europe, as Lyon take on Monaco in Ligue 1. Lazio Vs Inter Milan in Serie A also should be a good game. We’ll be back next week.

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